An Open Knowledge Base for the National Broadband Project

by: Conor Kenny

Thu Jul 26, 2007 at 17:28

( - promoted by Matt Stoller)

Any good piece of legislation is built on a solid understanding of the available research and data. Sen. Durbin has enlisted several knowledgeable experts to help him in this project and there's been some great discussion in the comments on OpenLeft. But comment threads can only go so long before the, well, threads get tangled.

So, to fully enable collaboration between all the Internet wonks, policy geeks and regular Joes and Janes out there who have some relevant information (or can find some), we've created an open knowledge base on the Congresspedia wiki for Sen. Durbin's project.

Conor Kenny :: An Open Knowledge Base for the National Broadband Project
While this project is new, it allows us to build on the many articles on telecom, media and intellectual property policy we've already built with the expert reporters at the Center for Public Integrity's "Well Connected" reporting project, like those on spectrum, digital copyright, broadband penetration data and network neutrality.

We've also got experts like the Center for Public Integrity's Drew Clark and Brendan McGarry, Free Press' Tim Karr and Public Knowledge's Art Brodsky making contributions, but in order to really pull this off we're going to need a lot of you guys to get enough eyeballs to make this bug shallow.

Sen. Durbin's staff has let us know they'll be watching to see what we come up with. Hopefully the information we collect will be useful not only in drafting the bill, but also in evaluating the draft when it is posted online.

So come on in, the water's fine.

Conor Kenny
Managing Editor,

Tags: , , , , , , , (All Tags)
Print Friendly View Send As Email

Congresspedia Tackles Telecom Policy (0.00 / 0)
Conor, thanks for the plug.

With the death of the last year's video franchising-Net neutrality bill, Democrats have now firmly taken the reins on telecommunications policy in Congress. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii., has legislation designed to map out the availability of broadband, or high-speed Internet connections, in the United States, and it passed out of committee on July 19.

Now, this week, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., announced an online effort to write national broadband strategy legislation. He will joined by several telecommunications and Internet experts in open-comment blogging sessions for four nights from July 24 - 27 at Durbin says he will be crafting legislation based on the input he gets during those sessions. He will then post drafts of that legislation online for more feedback before filing it as a bill.

Drew Clark
Senior Fellow and Project Manager
Center for Public Integrity's Well Connected Project

Way to go! (0.00 / 0)
Thanks much Conor.  Its great to see a next step being taken while this one's still in motion.

As the "resident telecom expert commenter" (0.00 / 0)
I'm sure you have a thing or two to add and I hope you do! Drop me a line at my Congresspedia user talk page or at ckenny [at] congresspedia [dot] org, eh?, the citizen's encyclopedia on Congress.

[ Parent ]
Sounds good... (0.00 / 0)
Thanks for the invite Conor.  I'm totally spent right now and desperate for dinner (and way behind with paid work, business planning and family matters), but will be in touch and look forward to taking part in this next step. 

Kudos to Sen. Durbin, Matt and the OL gang and you folks. I'd love to review (and maybe suggest) some legislative language and hope we get to that stage. 

I also look forward to understanding more about Congresspedia and other new tools and platforms that can effectively apply all the "peer production" energy that's out here among "the people."

[ Parent ]
Did you see this? (0.00 / 0)
Tool being used for comments  This is the new GPL license and I don't know specifically what they are using to manage the comments, but whatever software this it, it sure looks promising for "open source" legislation and policy formulation in terms of managing "many authors", comments online.  

The Economic Populist

Can you explain it a bit? (4.00 / 1)
Can you summarize the highlights of what looks promising about this and what it could mean in terms of functionality, etc. for legislation and policy formulation?

[ Parent ]
comments (0.00 / 0)
If you notice, the darker the color, the more the comments, which graphically gives you almost a histogram of popular opinion or problematic clauses, sentences within the license.  (a consensus, vote method).

The example:
if you notice the more comments on a particular clause the more problematic that sentence possibly is.  In this GPL license, encryption and being under GPL license is almost black from comments because encryption is a proprietary, privacy issue, so this is a point of contention with a "Sticky" license that would put design into the public sphere. 

Might be useful:

To me, to actually contribute, read, comment, vote on policy formulation via the Internets, software like this might make the situation more manageable versus enabling wiki general edits itself. 

For example, if there is a section in a bill I know is problematic (Durbin, s.1035 are you here?), yet I do not have the legal expertise or wording to actually modify the text so it addresses what I want it legally to do, I could just make a comment that one can read, attached, but not to be modified or merged into the actual bill text in this case, the wiki text.

It might be an additional layer in other words where folks can comment but in a way not contribute to the actual document, unless ya all vote on it to be merged in.

In a policy document, I might think a section is missing a very important aspect, but unsure how to word it better or if there will be many objections, so I am thinking this again would be have a layer "below" the wiki
text to just give my 2 cents for review and see if others concur, plus offer up some possible policy text itself contributions, but in the comments.

It would be also super cool in there was a selected merge via the comments (I don't know) with a "vote" that this tool seems to give.

of course veto vote should be the expert legislative staffers working for the Senator(s), I'll assume (and the ultimate being the Senator!)  

The Economic Populist

[ Parent ]
Preparing for next steps (0.00 / 0)
Robert, Conor, Drew, Matt, Sen. Durbin, et al...

First a disclaimer.  Though I've used them as resources, I've never contributed to a Wiki page, so I'm speaking largely out of ignorance. That being saidâ?¦.

The creation of the Congresspedia page and Robert's comments about collaborative editing tools makes me wonder whether there exist tools (along the lines of Robert's suggestions above) that would allow us to provide collaborative and, as appropriate, very specific feedback to Sen. Durbin's staff as they craft legislative language...or possibly even collaboratively draft some of our own legislative language for consideration by Sen. Durbin and others.

Robert's comment about adding an extra "layer" for adding and synthesizing "comments" as distinguished from actual edits in legislative language sounds very useful.  In some cases there can be problems/issues with language, but it may not be clear what specific changes can best address them.  Enabling discussion and even some voting on possible solutions before moving to the stage of actually proposing specific edits makes sense to me.  Since legislative language often refers back to earlier language, sometimes in complex chains of connection, I can imagine that sorting through all that could get messy in terms of implementing edits in a collaborative forum.

If such tools don't exist, I'd suggest that a project to develop them be considered a high priority by Congresspedia, Open Left, the Center for Public Integrity and others.  Senator Durbin has reached out to citizens via the web to solicit input to help him craft good broadband legislation.  While the Open Left discussion was a great step, as is the Congresspedia knowledge base, the rubber really meets the road in the form of legislative language.

Does this make sense to anyone...and, if so, any thoughts on how we can take this process to that level of support for citizen input?  Is something already planned along these lines?  I really like Robert's ideas, but the feasibility of implementing them is well above my techie pay grade. 

It seems important that we think about this and how we can help Sen. Durbin make best use of our input throughout the course of drafting and hopefully passing legislation.  I'm assuming that the more effective this process becomes, the more it will attract not only supporters, but also those seeking to cripple its influence.  So it makes sense to keep thinking a few steps ahead.

Sunlight Foundation (0.00 / 0)
Might the Sunlight Foundation be a partner in developing some of the tools Robert and I are suggesting?  I noticed a few relevant projects on their site: Sunlight Labs, OpenCongress,, More Perfect, etc.

Maybe a collaboration between Open Left, Congresspedia, Senator Durbin and Sunlight and some of its other projects???

Different tools for different roles (0.00 / 0)
Some of these tools are very interesting and have definitely got my gears turning. In working on Congresspedia for the last year, however, one truth about collaborative efforts has become apparent to me: they must have a common purpose. This sounds simple but actually quite narrows what can be achieved through open, collaborative efforts.

Having a common purpose means that each participant is agreeing to a common goal. While this works for a lot of reporting and research - you're essentially trying to get at the "truth" of a matter - it gets very problematic for prescriptive projects. In order for a collaborative project aimed at prescribing a solution (in this case a bill) to work, the participants have to agree on a common goal and set of values that will guide them whenever a decision between alternatives has to be made.

In this case, for example, to write a bill on network neutrality you would have to decide if free speech, profit maximization and/or guaranteed delivery of a class of packets is your highest value. This will guide the group, in this example and assuming the participants hold the basic values of Matt and the other people behind OpenLeft, to writing a policy that guarantees net neutrality even when it might cut into the profits of a telecom company.

So, while tools like the one Robert linked to above (that shows the relative controversy around each section) will help a group with a common value set to write a bill, it doesn't help bring people with different priorities to consensus.

I'd really like to see this project continue on OpenLeft, Congresspedia and anywhere else, but first let's look at the roles we need to fill and then which tools are most appropriate to facilitate them. In my opinion there are basically three:

1) Determine the arguments on each issue (best facilitated by the various players making their case via blog posts or another individual medium).

2) Finding and aggregating the information needed to evaluate those arguments (best facilitated by a wiki like Congresspedia, since there is no value required beyond finding the truth of the matter)

3) Evaluating proposed legislation against the information gathered in 2 (this could be done individually or a hybrid of individual and collaborative efforts).

With this in mind, I'd like to move forward in collecting the arguments that have already been posted on MyDD, OpenLeft and elsewhere with respect to #1 and then moving forward with #2. I think that when Sen. Durbin and any others come forward with legislation after the August recess everyone will be able to cut through many of the dishonest and misinformed arguments and be able to evaluate those proposals based largely on what values they hold.

In the next few days I'll be exploring this topic. If anyone has thoughts please post them here or email me at CKenny [at] Congresspedia [dot] org., the citizen's encyclopedia on Congress.

[ Parent ]
Good points and plan, Conor (0.00 / 0)

The points you make about gathering info vs. drafting legislation strike me as very sensible and presumably based on experience.  And your three-phase plan of action also makes sense. 

A few steps that I don't see explicitly mentioned in your plan but that could be helpful:

1) to provide some structure and definition of the key issues and perhaps how they relate to each other (vs. just providing links to various arguments laid out by proponents of particular policy approaches or general points of view); this step could be done upfront and perhaps revised once arguments are aggregated;

2) related to 1) would be some structure in and clarification of the relationships among arguments and the extent to which they are consistent with and/or in conflict with each other;

3) identification and highlighting of key elements of these arguments that are tied to and perhaps dependent on one or more factual realities or critical assumptions;  this seems like a helpful step in linking the arguments in Step 1 to the information in Step 2, and thus helping users make informed judgements as to the validity of the arguments based on as many relevant facts as possible.

[ Parent ]

Open Left Campaigns



Advanced Search

Powered by: SoapBlox